Trees For The Future Report

Submitted by patcoyle on Thu, 12/31/2009 - 14:45

To: Joshua Bogart <>, christopher nesbitt <>

From: Pat Coyle <>

Subject: contours for planning property improvements

Cc: Kathy Voth <>, Dave Deppner <>, "bccl" <>,


Joshua and Christopher,


I looked at Google Earth (GE) and hand-built the the attached representation of

contours on the property (I am attaching a picture and the GE file). I'm not sure how accurate it is, but, it is based on Google Earth's current data.


To open the .kmz file, you need to have Google Earth installed. Then as you zoom in, type U to be sure you have a top-down view.


The jpg file is a screen shot from the GE file.


These views should be helpful in scoping water harvesting opportunities and planning swales on contour lines.


I plan to be in Belize the first week of February.


Again, I'd sure like to see photos of your site visit.





Date: Tue, 29 Dec 2009 00:30:51 -0800


From: Pat Coyle <>

Subject: Google Earth Placemark: BOSSD contours .kmz



Google Earth streams the world over wired and wireless networks enabling users to virtually go anywhere on the planet and see places in photographic detail. This is not like any map you have ever seen. This is a 3D model of the real world, based on real satellite images combined with maps, guides to restaurants, hotels, entertainment, businesses and more. You can zoom from space to street level instantly and then pan or jump from place to place, city to city, even country to country.


Get Google Earth. Put the world in perspective.



To: Joshua Bogart <>, christopher nesbitt <>

From: Pat Coyle <>

Subject: Thanks again, re next steps on recommendations

Cc: Kathy Voth <>, Dave Deppner <>



Joshua and Christopher,


I hope you had good holidays.


I wanted to let you know I was able to get and go through the DVDs; Introduction to Permaculture Design, Establishing a Food Forest, and Harvesting Water the Permaculture Way, by Geoff Lawton and Aquaponics Made Easy by Murray Hallam all from the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia.


Very interesting. I see how your recommendations fit into this overall approach.


I have a trip set to be in Belize the first week of February. I'll be in touch about moving these recommendations along.


I'd sure like to see photos of your site visit.





prior message


Thanks Joshua.


I hope all is well with your family.


I look forward to the photos and ideas on next steps.


Have happy holidays and a safe new year.





At 11:42 AM -0600 12/14/09, Joshua Bogart wrote:

Hello Pat


I have had a series of family problems since I came back from Belize, which has me several weeks back on my work,  I will send out photos some day this week. 
To: christopher nesbitt <>

From: Pat Coyle <>

Subject: Thanks again, re next steps on recommendations

Cc: Joshua Bogart <>, Kathy Voth <>, Dave Deppner <>




Thanks Christopher.


I really appreciate the follow up. I have been Googling the Geoff Lawton work in with swales. It is very interesting.


Related to swales, we struck out on trying to get a drilled well near the caretaker's residence and pond. Below the sand, the report is that there was hard layer of clay, then soft clay down to ~275 feet. Kept caving in. No significant water. So, we may need to look more carefully at additional ponds and water harvesting.


Do you or Joshua have photos you can send? Particularly ones related to species you identified on the site or specific observations you made. If so, I'd sure like to get them.


We will look into how to proceed with your suggestions. In the meantime, I really would appreciate TFTF's help in sourcing the materials you suggest we plant so we can get nurseries going.


We need your help to identify and encourage, or propagate, the species you identified as already growing on the site or across the road.




At 6:47 PM -0600 11/28/09, christopher nesbitt wrote:

Hi Pat,


I would start with an A frame level, which is simple to build, and map out contour lines. When you have that mapped out, at perhaps 20 foot intervals, alternate rows of vetiver planted on contour and then dug swales. Swales really help build soil, as well as slowing the movement of moisture across the landscape, and vetiver will help to mine nutrients as well as act as a mechanical barrier, to intercept nutrients. If you are unable to find vetiver, locally, let me know. I have some here, and can give you some roots to plant out.


Geoff Lawton has done some incredible work in Jordan with swales. As I recall, that land was also not steep. Although some of the limitations Goeff Lawton has dealt with in Jordan apply to your land, you have a good supply of seasonal moisture. The trick for you is how to retain that moisture going into the dry season. Building soil is long hard work, and swales and vetiver planted on contour will be useful for you to retain the soil you do create.


So, first start with a good look at the slope of the land, no matter how minimal it appears. Then peg out contour lines across the property. Start looking into swales.


A possible next step is to consider raising chickens in mobile tractors as they will cycle nutrients through them onto the soil. That may migrate down to the swales, which will begin to accumulate nutrients. Free range chickens would be good, too, but with a low population density, it is possible you would attract predators, some with two legs!


Can you get pressed sugar cane stalks, or some other ag byproduct (besides rice hulls, which should be mixed with manure and composted before being used)?  I would look into composting or sheet composting. A good layer of sheet compost set up, with a chicken tractor on it after it has been in operation for a week or two will both provide insects and larvae for the chickens, and a matrix of partially rotted biomass to receive the manure.


Start with a good understanding of the contours of the land, map them out. As I recall, most of that land has a slight slope. Then look into chicken tractors as a start. Sometime in the dry season, I would set up a nursery for the species in the report that Joshua and I came up with. Then, when the rains come, plant those out.


The time to start on the swaling is now, before it gets too dry. Chicken tractors can go in at any time, but the sooner the better. Finding a good source of food for the chickens is another consideration, and, with rice growing up north, you might consider rice bran and broke rice. A bin to raise black soldier fly maggots is also a good way to raise protein for your chickens while composting material. The question will be where to get your material. Google chicken tractors for a design that suits your needs. I would look for one with integrated housing for your birds so that you can keep them contained on site.


Trees for the Future is focusing on a project that targets Kekchi communities on both sides of the Belize/Guatemala border, so I do now know when I will be back there, but I think we can at the very least assist with tree seed.


Best wishes,

To: christopher nesbitt <>

From: Pat Coyle <>

Subject: Thanks, re next steps on recommendations

Cc: Joshua Bogart <>, Kathy Voth <>, Dave Deppner <>



Thanks Christopher.


We really appreciate the feedback.


Again, what is the best way to implement these recommendations?


I can probably get David Dyck's help with equipment to do shaping the land with swales. However, to me, the terrain relief to do contours is pretty subtle. Based on your site visit, have you got some specifics in mind that we can mark up on a site plan?


Also to move forward with the planting recommendations, can we work with you and Joshua to identify and source the materials and get them going either in nurseries or direct planting scenarios?


I recognize the soil is marginal. However, we are looking at demonstrating ways to improve its use and productivity that could make a difference to many households in Belize with similar land. We would also like to consider the alternative use scenarios that recognize the soil limitations, such as the aquaponics systems you are building, imported soil for raised beds, localized zones of specialty plantings, etc.


When we visited Coppola's Blancaneaux Lodge in Mountain Pine Ridge in '05 it was for dinner, after dark, so we did not see the details of their terraces and composting. We only noticed it was a very nice result.


I'll see about making it there for the Permaculture Design Course in March.


Thanks again,



At 9:29 PM -0600 11/27/09, christopher nesbitt wrote:

Hi Pat,


If it was me, putting out swales and vetiver grass on contour would be a first step, to catch the nutrients that might wash off, along with planting of leguminous cover crops to both fix nitrogen and hold soil. Joshua and I saw some Cannavalia maritiumus growing, and that would be good.



It will be many years before you can grown jatropha on most of that land and expect it to provide any yield, if ever. Jatropha is a heavy feeder, and there is not much in that land to feed on. We have some jatropha here, and it likes well drained soil that is fertile. Both Joshua and I looked at that land and both felt the land was not really suitable for agriculture. As we have said, you could improve what you have by careful planning, managed animals, with fodder from off sire, but the land, itself, is poor land, and the most you will be able to hope for in the next 10 years is that the land improves from being poor soil to being mediocre soil. It is never going to be good farm land.


You can look into raised beds, with drip irrigation, and haul in soil from other locations, or you can do an aquaponics system (we are building one here), but soil based agriculture on the soil you have is going to be very challenging and nonproductive.


Have you been up to Coppolas place in Mountain Pine Ridge, Blancaneux? They have done some amazing work there with terraces and composting, using animal manure and compostables from their hotel. That would be well worth a visit, in my opinion.


Also, a permaculture course, as we have suggested, would be useful.


If you get a chance, come to the Permaculture Design Course in March here. That would give you some ideas of what you can do with that land.


Best wishes,



From: "Dave Deppner" <>

To: "Pat Coyle" <>

Cc: "Joshua Bogart" <>

Subject: Re: Thanks, next steps: Re: recommendations

Date: Mon, 23 Nov 2009 10:35:21 -0500


Good morning Pat,


Thanks for including me in these planning discussions for your place in Belize.

As the resident cowboy, I really believe there is a big advantage in your situation for including grazing animals, cattle and goats in your land development plan. The land, in its resent state, has little productive value.


Trees will be a big help, over time, but trees as a forage (high protein) supplement in combination with high production forage grasses would bring back organic content and soil nutrients far faster - assuming the animals are kept in confinement so that you realize the highest rates of production and can utilize the manure to its greatest value. This would also generate fast and continuing income for the other farm operations.


Under the existing conditions there, I doubt you could make the desired land conversion within an acceptable time limit. This way the animals, and the forage area to support them, would take up far less land but that area would e quickly converted into something that is sustainably productive.


Have a wonderful Thanksgiving,


Dave Deppner
Date: Sun, 22 Nov 2009 21:23:48 -0800

To: Joshua Bogart <>

From: Pat Coyle <>

Subject: Thanks, next steps: Re: recommendations

Cc: christopher nesbitt <>, Kathy Voth <>, Dave Deppner <>



Thanks Joshua and Christopher.


I have just skimmed through the report and will study it more closely.


I really appreciate your visit and the suggestions and would like to move forward with your recommendations as quickly as possible. What are the highest priority next steps to proceed in your view and how would you suggest we implement them?


I really would like to get a robust nursery and planting program established. I feel like the longer we wait, opportunity is lost, day-by-day.


I notice there was no mention of Jatropha in your report. How do you see it potentially fitting into the program?


I hear your suggestion to defer animal husbandry for 2-5 years, to take this time to clean up the site and get trees and plantings well established. However, I am curious about your experience with use of intensive grazed, carefully rotated small paddocks with sheep /goats to deal with fire load and brush control. Perhaps this could be conducted in parallel, combined with getting trees and plantings established. One of our Directors, Kathy Voth, has used goats extensively for fire/weed/brush control. See her site:


I definitely don't want to move too fast without getting the basics down. I very much want to establish the foundation of a well functioning forage bank and managed land site.


I have the book, Gaviotas and will make it a priority to read it with a view to their approaches in dealing with soil characteristics similar to ours and the techniques they used to build soil. Given many years of soil building are ahead, I'd really like to get going.


I would like to take a Permaculture Design Course. I missed the one Christopher was teaching this fall in Quintana Roo. He suggested it might be more relevant to the site we have than the one at MMRF in the Toledo District.


I would also like to get photos from your visit. Where they can be keyed to an observation or recommendation that would be helpful, but I'd like them all.


We are approaching the Thanksgiving holiday in the States this coming week. I wish you and your families all the best.


If there are good times to call, let me know. Often a phone call can cover a lot of ground that is tough to get at in emails.


Thanks again,



At 10:31 PM -0600 11/20/09, Joshua Bogart wrote:

Hello Pat


I have attached a doc which Christopher Nesbitt and I put together giving our recommendations for the Property in August Pine Ridge.


I personally am a believer that each parcel of land has a best use, many of the practices which we consider abusive are a misuse of a particular parcel. As I am sure you know your particular parcel is pretty hostile to many agricultural uses, My personal feeling, I don't know if Christopher would share it or not, is that your land would best be used as a type of animal husbandry system, with cut and carry feeding of animals, it is truly not apt, in its current state, for most fruit trees or grain/root crops. There are some good tropical forages that will grow on your land if you concentrate on them you will over time improve your land through nutrient cycling. I want to stress the point that Christopher has made that if you guys put a lot of time and effort into soil improvements in 10+ years you will have mediocre soil. I have seen farmers start in Honduras with thin topsoil over weathered sandstone and now 20 years later they have nice farm, that is the kind of situation your are facing.



Joshua D Bogart

Program Coordinator

Trees for the Future

Siguatapaque HN

Barrio Macaruya, Calle, 21 de Agosto

cellular (504) 9696-3700

home/casa 773-4177

Recommendations for land in August Pine Ridge owned by Belize open source development, made by Joshua Bogart; Regional project coordinator for Trees for the Future (TFTF) and Christopher Nesbitt; director of Maya Mountain Research Farm (MMRF)

(Note links have been added by Coyle, not yet reviewed by Joshua Bogart or Christopher Nesbitt. Coyle may have made errors or linked to varieties other than they had in mind. 1/15/10)


The site of Belize open source development is located in Pine savanna. The day we visited the land was partially flooded in large parts. The part of the land which is still in brush contains some native species that could be useful if managed and encouraged. The plantation of Cashew is well planted maybe not in the best part of the property. The plants could be weeded and a cover crop established. I would recommend Canavalia maritima because there is proof that it is growing well on site. There are several species of desmodium, mimosa (sensitive plant) and other low growing legumes on site. I have had some success in Honduras encouraging such plants and adapting them as ground cover in coffee. The advantages are 1) you know they grow under local conditions 2) no need to import rizobium which may be necessary with other legume species.

Other plants to consider for ground cover are Arachis pintoi, Canavalia ensiformis, Cajanus cajan, Tefrosia vegolii, Macuna spp, or Vigna spp. The chosen plant should be considered with its other uses in mind. Whether there will be people on site to use the food quality of certain species such as Cajanus cajan or Vigna, or to aid in the initial growth period of a species such as Arachis.  


Our recommendation is to take a few steps at a time, concentrate on the cashew orchard and establishing forage species, if the staff at Belize open Source development moves fast to establish to many parts of the system there is a good chance that the whole thing will fall apart. If the interest is in Cashew and animal production, then pick a couple of species to establish in forage banks, and get a good system with the cashew, See how many animals (goats/chickens) can be easily maintained and then move on to the next step. The land is very harsh (not necessarily degraded) and will take a lot of work and observation to not make mistakes which cost a lot of time and effort and could set the whole project back several years.


The native vegetation that could be useful for projects.

Caliandra calorythus, I do not know the local name, provides a high quality forage for cows, goats, sheep, and pigs, also a high quality pollen/nectar source for honey bees. Leaves serve as a great green manure, and wood is a high quality firewood and creates a high quality charcoal. Can be coppiced, providing continuous harvest of wood and leaf


Quercus sp. Oaks, I saw at least two species, provide high quality firewood and charcoal. Acorns serve as a high quality animal feed; trees which are limed will produce more regular crops. Can be coppiced and pollarded. Have the advantage of being fire resistant.


Byrsonima crassifola, Locally called crabu is a native fruit species, offers high quality feed for birds and pigs. Crabu is a native species which has considerable ecological importance, and is also useful as firewood and bee fodder. Byrsonima is also fire resistant. 


Canavalia martitima would be a good cover crop for the cashews and other crops, may serve as a good fodder species.


Recommendations for land improvement.


The area which is in brush and old cashew trees needs some management. Under current conditions a fire would be very hot and very damaging. There is a large quantity of dead wood, and grasses. I would recommend patrolling the area for firewood. If there is no need/market for firewood locally the wood could be used to make charcoal (at later periods it might be used for mushroom strata) charcoal can either be sold (if there is a market) or crushed and dug back into soil. In this way the removal of dead wood provides an income and or increases the fertility and soil characteristics of the property, while denying eventual fires of hot burning fuel.


Swales, long ditches dug on contour, should be considered for their ability to catch run off. As the site is predominantly heavy clay with little organic matter, swales are a design strategy and method of retaining soil and soil moisture in the dry season. Swales also create a microclimate, which with the accumulation of organic material over time will allow for the planting of higher value crops, such as taro, bananas, and papaya


Another consideration towards retaining soil organic matter is vetiver grass, which is deep rooted, sterile, and is sympodial, and has zero risk of invasiveness. Vetiver can create a substantial barrier, and when planted on contour, catches nutrients. It also has the behavior of dropping deep roots into the soil, in a cone, so it is not in competition with adjacent plants, and mining nutrients, pulling nutrients up to the surface. The one draw back is that vetiver grass is not suitable as forage but can be used for bedding material and mulch.


Until a good firebreak can be created, staff may consider controlled burns during the later part of the wet season in certain high risk areas, this would serve multiple purposes 1) denying fuel for fires 2) controlling some invasive species 3) a controlled burn would favor carbon creation instead of ash creation, the carbon would act as a soil amendment 3) providing new green material in the early part of the dry season.


The current fire line should be maintained but you also might consider planting a permanent firebreak, species such as Caliandra calorythus, Leuceana spp, or Zyziphus spp. can be planted .5-1 meter apart with staggered rows 2-3 meters apart around the property, these plants are coppiced at the end of the wet season, the coppice material serves as on site firewood and fodder for animals. The new verdant growth can slow and stop fires entering from neighboring properties.


This particular property will need a lot of work to prepare it for many agroforestry uses. There are some species which would survive the current conditions, and the activity of their roots and increasing organic material in the soil will increase permeability, and water storage, decreasing flooding in the wet season, and increasing water storage for the dry season. I would recommend species that would give immediate (within 1-2 year returns in forage, many of the species I mention also give great firewood and charcoal which may or may not have a use or market in the region.

All of the species we mention below are known as nurse species, preparing the area for latter crops. All of the species in the following list Trees for the future has access to seed either locally in Belize or in Honduras. I have included a second list of species I would recommend trying and which we are currently trying to identify seed sources for.


Species I would recommend for immediate trial are

Caliandra calorythus, described above, exemplars on site show that it is capable of nice growth.


Prosopis spp. there is a property across the road with a couple of exemplars, leaves of this species would provide high quality forage and green manure, the seed pods are also a good quality forage which can be used in the place of corn to fatten animals. The roots would penetrate hardpan improving drainage and water storage. Firewood is one of the best in the world and gives an excellent charcoal.


Mimosa tenuiflora, provides good green manure preparing soils for later crops, medium quality forage, like Prosopis the pods are good animal food but can cause invasion of plants if given whole, it us more recommendable to harvest and grind them. The Firewood is excellent and also gives a high quality charcoal.


Acacia nilotica, would grow in the parts of the property which flood, provides wood, and leaves are good quality forage.


Zizyphus spp there is a local species, can grow under conditions on property, offers a high quality forage and good fruit. Also an excellent firewood and fencing species with some fire resistance


Moringa oliefera, we saw a nice tree in the community of Trinidad would provide good quality human and animal feed probably best to try in parts of the property which do not flood.


Andira inermis, good shade species, animal forage, timber, and nitrogen fixer. Andira inermis can grow in flooded soils.


Erythrina fusca, Erythrina poeppigiana, Erythrina berteroana - forage, green manure, live fence grows well in seasonally flooded soils.


Diphysa americana, one of my favorite trees, great nitrogen fixer, structural wood, forage, live fence species grows well in flooded areas.


Cordia dentata Live fence firewood and forage, can withstand flooding.


Calophyllum brasiliense, timbers species which produces an oil in the fruit, which can also be used as hog food.


Samanea saman, great nurse species, which supplies forage and timber


Trees I would recommend trying but can not guarantee we can find seed for are


Cordia dodecandra, locally called circote. Circote is a great timber species, which gives an edible fruit.


Leuceana trichandra, this is the only species of Leucaena which is recommendable at this time, because of its ability to grow in acidic soils. I am currently trying to identify seed sources but have not yet.


A genus usually recommended for this type of site is the Australian pines Casuarina species. They are fast growers with hard wood, resistant to fire, probably the best wind/firebreak species (mixed with lower growing species, and can withstand seasonal flooding and long dry periods. There are a lot of people in Belize who do not like the Casuarinas because they have shown some invasive potential in the coastal areas or the Cayes. It is the decision of your NGO on whether or not to work with it.


Animal husbandry on site

Would not recommend pasturing goats, sheep, or cows under current conditions, they all tend graze too much and compact the soil. Any or all of these ruminants could be maintained in stables with cut and carry forage. This would allow the management of species on site and the concentration of manure for biogas and use on important crops.



Chickens/turkeys/quail could be pastured and their foraging would probably improve the system, all three tend to scratch which digs bacteria and organic mater into the soil increasing biological activity.


Pigs could also be used in rotation pastures, having the same effect as chickens, or in a cut and carry system.


Rabbits could be used in “rabbit tractors” once a cover crop is established. “Tractors” are mobile cages, open on the bottom, that allows animals to be concentrated in an are for the services of weeding and manuring. This can be done with poultry, and pigs if the have had rings placed in their nose.


Ducks could prosper in the current conditions as long as there is some water. Geese tend to prefer more tender vegetation than what I saw on sight. I would recommend geese after some form of tender ground cover is established in the Cashew orchards, I would recommend Arachis pintoi, geese will maintain this well trimmed and provide eggs and meat.


If you have access to water either from wells or in ponds, aquaculture of fish and mollusks could tie into agroforestry, Caliandra, Moringa, Leuceana, Acacia, Dyphsia, Erythrina etc can be easily used to create fish food. There is also potential to use the fruit of Calophylum and Quercus spp in fish food. 


Recommendation to not start animal husbandry for 2-5 years, take this time to clean up the site and get trees and plantings well established. Many projects like Belize open source Development begin to fast and never get the basics down and spend a lot of time and money putting in intense aquaponics, and stable systems without having the foundation of a well functioning forage bank and managed land site.


A book worth buying is Gaviotas, as they established a community in the savannah of Colombia, which is similar in topographical, weather and soil characteristics to the land that Belize Open Source owns, and the book covers the techniques they used to build soil. It is now thriving, but here were many years of soil building.


A major recommendation would be taking a Permaculture Design Course. That would give a tool box of modalities to approach the significant problems faced, based on the unsuitability of the land for agriculture. Maya Mountain Research Farm has one every year. There are other courses around the world but MMRF is located in Belize and Christopher is an accomplished practitioner of permaculture and the visiting instructors bring experience from a variety of locations.